House ap­proves au­tho­riza­tion for new Soo Lock

The Detroit News - - News - BY MELISSA NANN BURKE Detroit News Wash­ing­ton Bureau

Wash­ing­ton — The U.S. House voted Thurs­day to ap­prove leg­is­la­tion in­clud­ing au­tho­riza­tion for $922.4 mil­lion to build a large re­place­ment lock at the Up­per Penin­sula’s Soo Locks.

The wa­ter-in­fra­struc­ture bill, which passed on a voice vote, next heads to the U.S. Se­nate, where its pas­sage and the pres­i­dent’s sig­na­ture would be the first con­crete steps in decades to­ward build­ing the new lock.

Law­mak­ers said fund­ing will still need to be ap­pro­pri­ated next spend­ing cy­cle.

“This mod­ern­iza­tion pro­ject is long — as in decades — over­due,” said Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, whose district in­cludes the locks.

The progress is due in part to a study by the U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers re­leased this sum­mer that rec­om­mended a 1,200-foot­long lock to mir­ror the 49-yearold Poe Lock at Sault Ste. Marie.

The Army Corps pro­vided an eco­nomic analysis that will al­low the pro­ject to com­pete for con­struc­tion fund­ing, es­ti­mat­ing the cost at $922 mil­lion at next year’s pric­ing level, or $1 bil­lion over the seven-year to 10-year con­struc­tion pe­riod.

The Poe is the only one of the four ag­ing locks owned and op­er­ated by the Army Corps big enough to han­dle the largest freighters that carry 89 per­cent of the cargo through the cor­ri­dor.

An un­ex­pected out­age of the Poe could cause a bot­tle­neck with a rip­pling dis­rup­tion through the sup­ply chain for steel pro­duc­tion and man­u­fac­tur­ing across the coun­try.

Repub­li­can Rep. Paul Mitchell said he helped push for the pro­ject’s in­clu­sion in the au­tho­riza­tion bill as a mem­ber of the House Trans­porta­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee.

“It’s an is­sue na­tion­ally in terms of the econ­omy and na­tional de­fense,” said Mitchell of Dry-

den. “Turns out it was au­tho­rized in 1986, and there’s been stud­ies and dis­cus­sion but noth­ing got done.”

He noted the find­ings of a 2015 Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity re­port that found no al­ter­na­tive trans­porta­tion mode ex­ists for get­ting iron ore from Min­nesota mines to steel mills on the lower Great Lakes.

The same study con­cluded the Poe Lock is a weak link in the North Amer­i­can in­dus­trial econ­omy, and an un­planned, six-month clo­sure could plunge the U.S. econ­omy into re­ces­sion, cost­ing up to 11 mil­lion jobs.

Sen. Deb­bie Stabenow, DLans­ing, who worked to in­clude au­tho­riza­tion in the Se­nate ver­sion of the bill, ap­plauded Thurs­day’s House vote. She and Bergman had cospon­sored a bill last year with the ob­jec­tive of au­tho­riz­ing the lock.

“The locks are vi­tal to com­merce in Michi­gan and our na­tional de­fense,” Stabenow said in a state­ment. “This is a sig­nif­i­cant step to­ward fi­nally get­ting this done.”

Rep. John Moole­naar, RMid­land, pledged to work with his col­leagues on the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee to fund the Soo Locks up­grade.

“To­day’s leg­is­la­tion makes it crys­tal clear: Pres­i­dent Trump, Repub­li­cans, and Democrats sup­port a new lock in the Soo,” he said.

The Soo pro­ject seemed to gain mo­men­tum fol­low­ing an April visit by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to Michi­gan, when Bergman, Mitchell and Moole­naar in­formed the pres­i­dent of the stalled up­grade dur­ing a car ride from Sel­fridge Air Na­tional Guard Base to a Ma­comb Town­ship sports arena.

“The Soo Locks are go­ing to hell,” Trump later told the arena crowd. “You know that, right? And we’re go­ing to get them fixed up.”

Detroit News file

The Great Lakes Trader and a tug exit the Poe Lock, which is the only one of the four Soo locks big enough for the largest freighters.

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